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New series ‘The Boys,’ ‘Pennyworth’ showcase comic books’ versatility

If you weren’t able to make it to Comic-Con last week, you’re in luck: TV has you covered with the next best thing — or, at the very least, the thing a couple of things down from the next best thing.

In a nod to just how flexible comic books can be as source material, this weekend offers up both the irreverent, deliciously cynical “The Boys” (Friday, Amazon Prime), which follows the greed and corruption behind the superhero industrial complex, and “Pennyworth” (9 p.m. Sunday, Epix), the origin story of Bruce Wayne’s butler that plays out a bit like the “Downton Abbey” of Batman-adjacent dramas.

‘The Boys’

The flashier of the two is “The Boys,” which begins with the basic premise that superheroes are a bunch of dangerously out-of-control egomaniacs who need to be exposed as a collection of fame-hungry monsters.

Hughie (Jack Quaid) wants justice when his girlfriend is accidentally killed by one of The Seven, the pre-eminent superhero team whose members have a multitude of endorsement deals, including their own beers and breakfast cereals.

After realizing there’s no legal recourse — “supes” can’t be prosecuted for damages they cause while they’re on the job — Hughie joins up with a group of vigilantes, known as The Boys, led by the mysterious Billy Butcher (Karl Urban).

The Seven, meanwhile, also have a newcomer: Annie (Erin Moriarty), aka Starlight. Fresh from Des Moines, Iowa, the wholesome hero won the nationwide casting call — complete with screen tests and urine tests — to fill a vacancy on the team. She’s introduced to the world at a meeting of shareholders of Vought, the conglomerate that manages the supes.

Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), senior vice president of hero management, is in charge of Vought’s more than 200 superheroes, whom she leverages to cities with massive exclusive contracts — albeit with a cut of the merchandise — like a ruthless sports team threatening to relocate.

She’s also there to ensure the costumed cretins’ extra-curricular activities — various degrees of Weinstein-ing and other debauchery that would test Deadpool’s capacity to blush — are never made public.

Developed by “Supernatural” creator Eric Kripke, “The Boys” shares more than just a twisted sensibility — and a taste for blood and viscera — with AMC’s “Preacher,” which returns for its fourth and final season Aug. 4. It’s based on the comics by “Preacher” co-creator Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, and both series count Seth Rogen among their executive producers


“Pennyworth,” meanwhile, comes from writer Bruno Heller, who previously mined the DC Comics vault as the creator of “Gotham.”

Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), “Alfie” to his friends, is a former member of the SAS who’s recently launched a security consulting firm. But his father won’t hear of it. Given Alfie’s war record, he should be able to find work as a chauffeur or a head footman. “World’s your oyster,” Pops lectures. “Do right, you’re a butler before you’re 40.”

Alfie has other ideas, most of which begin to be realized when he encounters Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) at the nightclub where he works the door.

“Pennyworth” is set in 1960s London, but the series is every bit as much of a time jumble as “Gotham,” which could have realistically taken place pretty much any time since 1989.

Horse-drawn carriages travel the city streets where prisoners are locked in pillories and publicly hanged. Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” plays on the soundtrack, and a drag artist sings Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.”

But that trippiness rarely extends to the series itself, which often takes on an early James Bond aura with its secret societies and nefarious plots.

Watching both series at home may not offer the same thrills as seeing them at Comic-Con, but the viewing conditions should be far superior.

Also, at home, there’s a better chance that whoever you’re watching them with hasn’t spent the past 48 hours sleeping outside just in order to be there.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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